John Rosemond October 2018 Columns
Copyright 2018, John K. Rosemond
More Musings Over Morning Coffee
More musings over morning coffee:
FROM THE TRUTH VS. “YOUR TRUTH” DEPARTMENT: The former is grounded in verifiable facts; the latter is the deceptive product of emotion. The latter, unfortunately, is usually represented by the loudest, most agitated mob.
FROM THE “FOR EXAMPLE” DEPARTMENT: Every so often, the issue of spanking rears its always ugly head and begins snapping at my heels. The latest example comes from a PTA group in Connecticut that has marked me “unfit for human consumption” because I supposedly (according to said group) believe in spanking. But I don’t “believe” in spanking. I am not zealous concerning spanking, pro or con. As concerns this thing we now call parenting, I long ago realized that unless my beliefs could be supported by a preponderance of anecdote, verified sources of wisdom, or good research, they were not worth sharing with others.
Concerning the volatile subject of spanking, the best research – meaning that which most closely adheres to the scientific method and is not contaminated by researchers’ feelings or preconceived notions – says that spanking, in and of itself, is not the harmful thing the mental health community has been claiming, zealously, for the past fifty years.
The research in question – the interested reader can look it up online – has been and is being done by professors Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University and Diana Baumrind of the University of California, Berkeley. They have found, independently and conjointly, that children who are occasionally spanked by parents whose love is unconditional score higher on multiple measures of well-being than children whose parents claim to have never spanked. The operative words in the previous sentence are occasionally, spanked, unconditional, and claim. In other words, the research findings in question certainly do not apply to children who are regularly beaten by parents who are motivated by anger rather than genuine and steady caring.
Concerning parents who “claim” to have never spanked, Baumrind discovered, somewhat to her own surprise, that many such parents admit in confidential interviews that they have occasionally exploded toward their children in physical and emotional rages. She advanced the proposition that occasional, moderate spankings can and often do serve as a disciplinary “safety valve,” thus preventing abuse.
All things considered, spankings are by no means essential to the proper discipline of a child. In fact, proper discipline is not constituted primarily of proper consequences. That is evidenced by the fact that parents of the most well-behaved children use consequences sparingly, in fact. Many an obedient, respectful child has never been swatted.
FROM THE “OTHER SIDE OF THE PROVERBIAL COIN” DEPARTMENT: I do not agree with those in the Christian community who claim that biblical verses referring to “the rod of discipline” enjoin parents to spank. As I have said on many previous occasions – both in this column and elsewhere – there is a distinct semantic difference in the Bible between “a rod” and “the rod.” While the former is a reference to a stick-like object used, for example, as a symbol of royal authority or means of herding domestic beasts, the latter is clearly metaphorical. The Bible is not prescribing spankings for misbehavior (nor, however, does it eliminate that option). It clearly says what I say at every possible opportunity: the proper discipline of a child is accomplished not by “consequence-delivery-systems” but by parents who project a calm confidence in the legitimacy of their authority and focus, first and foremost, on teaching their children to think correctly and contain their emotions.
And that’s my last word on the subject…in my dreams.
The Realities of Parenting
PARENTING REALITY, PART ONE: It is all but inevitable that after rattling off a list of provocative, sociopathic stuff his or her child is doing and usually has been doing for quite some time, a parent will say, “But he’s a really good kid.” How’s that? How is it that a child who is belligerently defiant, denigrates the parent with various libelous descriptors, refuses to be the least bit responsible around the home, and creates nearly constant uproar in the family is “really a good kid”? I have a theory.
Today’s parents tend to believe in parenting determinism; that, in other words, parenting produces the person. The belief is understandable, given that the mental health community has been spreading it for over a century, ever since it was originally proposed by Sigmund Freud, the so-called Father of Modern Psychology. It’s why psychologists – no matter the nature of the presenting problem – ask, “Tell me about your childhood” as if the way a person was raised, or (more accurately) claims to have been raised, explains everything.
Given the ubiquity of that belief – which, by the way, is not corroborated by either research or a preponderance of anecdote – for a parent to admit the obvious, that her child is a “really bad kid” is to admit, in effect, that she has been a correspondingly defective parent. “But he’s a really good kid” is a form of self-protective denial.
The PARENTING REALITY here is that an inability to confront the reality of a child’s misbehavior translates to an inability to respond effectively, with purposeful, unruffled authority. Under the circumstances, the child’s misbehavior gets worse over time, as does the parent’s confusion. And around and around they go. The likelihood of one or both parties eventually becoming diagnosed and being on psychiatric medication increases with every passing day.
PARENTING REALITY, PART TWO: Contrary to what even most psychologists believe, no one has ever conclusively proven that behavior modification – which obviously works on dogs and other animals – works with any significant degree of reliability on human beings. It is important to note that the “no one” in the preceding sentence includes B. F. Skinner, the psychology professor and researcher who first articulated the theory. Nonetheless, the notion that successful discipline is largely a matter of manipulating consequences (i.e., reward and punishment) properly is almost universally held. Thus, when parents describe a discipline problem to me, they want to know WHAT I think they should do.
They expect me to describe a method, technique, or strategy that they haven’t already thought of. I call these methods, etc., “consequence delivery systems.” The PARENTING REALITY here is that more important than WHAT one does in response to a child’s persistent misbehavior is the WAY in which it – whatever “it” might be – is done.
Said differently, no method, technique, strategy or consequence is going to work for long (if it works at all) unless it is delivered by a parent who is unequivocally convinced of the legitimacy of his/her authority over said child. A right attitude is more important than a right consequence. With a right attitude, a right presentation, nearly any consequence will work, and keep working.
Most parents have already discovered the truth of this. They simply refuse to accept the evidence.
Make 'Em an Offer They Can't Refuse
When I was a child, my most important possession was my bicycle, followed closely by my radio.
My bike was how I got around. I rode it to school, friend’s houses, pick-up baseball games, shopping centers, and just about anywhere else my heart desired and my parents would allow (and some they wouldn’t have allowed).
My radio – AM-only with a 3-inch speaker – connected me to a world far removed from my suburban-Chicago neighborhood and its surrounds, but it mostly connected me to one of the 1960s greatest rock ‘n’ roll stations: WLS. When I was home, I was usually in my room singing along with the likes of Elvis and Frankie Vallie.
My parents were strict, and I was given to mischief, so I was punished a fair amount – more than any of my friends, for sure. My parents’ default penalty was to ground me to the house for a week, sometimes more. On occasion, they grounded me to my room – I could, of course, come out to do chores, which they seemed to delight in assigning whenever I was grounded – and confiscated my radio. In that event, my social and creative life came to a virtual standstill. Obviously, I survived these traumas.
I’m sharing this personal history because of something odd about many of today’s parents, or at least a good number of those who come to me seeking advice, much of which pertains to narcissistic, sociopathic behavior on the part of their kids. The odd thing in question is a self-defeating form of enabling.
To use a not-uncommon example, a young teen’s parents tell me she is disrespectful and belligerently defiant toward them, refuses to lift a finger around the house, and is just plain nasty toward her younger siblings. No one knows that she has an evil alter-ego because outside the house she is a paragon of civility. When she is home, she is found in her room, door closed, submerged in what is called “social” media – an oxymoron if ever there was one.
The girl is in dire need of an at-home rehab program. I recommend taking everything away from her that is not of absolute necessity, including, of course, her smart phone. For how long? the parents ask. Until she turns herself around, becomes a model family citizen, and sustains her recovery for three months. I point out to them that it may be a year or more before she is reunited with her smart phone.
They look at one another like they’ve just realized they’re in a room with a person who’s not in possession of a completely right mind. They tell me they don’t think they can do that. Why not? I ask.
“Well, John, I mean, um, uh, well, in her peer group everyone communicates by phone,” the father answers. “And, well, uh, I mean that’s her whole social life…it’s, well, it’s her whole world.”
Precisely. That’s the point. I understand that certain possessions can become super-important to a teenager and that one particular possession can become key to the teen’s social life. My bicycle occupied that status until I could drive. And when I was in my room – where, like most teens I preferred to be – my radio was my world. With it on, my room became a stage and I became a rock star. Nonetheless, my parents had no problem parking my bicycle and grounding me to my room – which they would purge of my WLS machine – for weeks at a time. Somehow, my mental health survived these abuses, as did my social life.
There are times when nothing short of a “Godfather offer” – one the child can’t refuse – will bring about what the child does not know is in his or her best interest: civil behavior. And yes, when things get to that point, they are sure to get worse before they get better, but keep in mind that the operative words in that adage are “they get better.”
Determinism Muddies Parental Judgement
As the current school year kicked off, I began hearing the same-old, same-old report from teachers and principals: children who have never lied. At least, that is what the parents of said children claim.
When one of these highly-evolved kids is accused of misbehaving at school, his parents ask him for his side of the story, his take on what really happened. And sure enough, the child’s story does not match the teacher’s report. The teacher, for example, swears she saw the accused deliberately trip another child during recess. The trip resulted in facial injuries and two broken teeth. The accused claims he only stuck his foot out because he thought his $450 sneakers were untied and that the victim just happened to be running by at the time.
The accused’s parents go to the school and say something along these lines: “Our child is very upset that he’s been blamed for something he did not and would never do. He’s been crying since he got home from school yesterday. We believe him because he’s never lied to us, so we’re keeping him out of school until he gets an apology from Mrs. Machiavelli.”
Ultimately, the dastardly Mrs. Machiavelli apologizes and is summarily transferred to Death Valley Elementary School. Oh, I failed to mention that during the conference in question the child’s parents dropped the term “our lawyer,” which never fails to correct the thinking of principals, superintendents, heads of schools, and school board members.
Lest the reader think I am engaging in hyperbole, the above story was related to me by the principal of a school in Southern California. Granted, the teacher in our tale is not related to an infamous Italian prince, nor was she transferred to a school in Death Valley. Furthermore, the accused’s sneakers cost a mere $425. Everything else came straight from said principal’s mouth.
The question becomes: What causes otherwise rational adults, having heard the report of a person who has dedicated her life to the betterment of the lives of children, to ask a child for his side of said story?
The myth of parenting determinism, that’s what. Parenting determinism is the notion, relentlessly promoted by mental health professionals, that every action on the part of a child can be linked to an action on the part of or something about his parents. Parenting determinism explains the “My Child is an Honor Student” bumper sticker. It also explains “My child has never lied.”
Parenting determinism had not yet clouded parental thinking when I was a child. So, when a teacher accused me of misbehavior, my parents believed the teacher. Anything I said in my defense was wrong, a lie. End of story. That no one took my explanation with more than a grain of salt, if that, was, I felt, grossly unfair. I thought it was unfair even when I was lying, which was close to one hundred percent of the time.
I did not know it at the time, but I was greatly blessed to have parents I was unable to con. I can only imagine what my life would have been like otherwise. Parenting does not produce the person, but the child is father to the man.
Foundation to Parenting Begins With Marriage
In an opinion piece recently featured on FoxNews.com., Jonathan Pokluda explicates his Ten Habits of Extraordinary Parents. Pokluda, a teaching pastor at a mega-church in Texas, and his wife are in the midst of what he terms “the parenting experiment” with three young children.
In the introduction to his Ten Habits, Pokluda says that according to his observations, extraordinary young people come from extraordinary parents. I don’t know where he’s making his observations, but tales abound of extraordinary people whose children have gone off the proverbial deep end and never made it back. Likewise, tales abound of fine, upstanding people who were raised by parents who fell far short of extraordinary. The very false notion that extraordinary people are raised by extraordinary people does nothing but set a good number of people up for paralyzing guilt.
Pokluda asserts that “if there was a parenting scoreboard, spending time with our kids is how we’d earn points.” That’s the postmodern parenting standard, for sure. Being a millennial, raised after the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s/1970s, Pokluda doesn’t know that the mental health of children in the 1950s, before “parenting” was even a word and when parents did not feel a compulsion to spend lots of time and be involved – when, in other words, the raising of children was a minimalistic proposition – was ten times better than the mental health of today’s kids. In today’s parenting lexicon, the word “involvement” is a euphemism for micromanaging, which never works for anyone concerned.
Today’s “parenting” is all about establishing and maintaining a wonderful relationship. Fifty-plus years ago, when kids as a group were much, much happier than they are today, parents understood that their first and foremost responsibility was to provide leadership and that proper leadership led, slowly but surely, to proper relationship. Put relationship first and discipline will be difficult, stressful, and often lead to regretful outbursts from parents, which is, I suspect, is why Pokluda lists asking for forgiveness from one’s kids among his Ten Habits. Wrong. By definition, extraordinary parents don’t have to ask for forgiveness. They know what they’re doing and they do it with authoritative confidence.
But Pokluda’s most glaring error is that of omitting Extraordinary Parents Are Husband and Wife First, Mom and Dad Second. He and his wife and obviously completely immersed in the roles of Mommy and Daddy. With every intention of helping them before that can gets kicked too far down the road, that is the Single Biggest of All Parenting Errors. The following is an unarguable fact: NOTHING PUTS A MORE SOLID FOUNDATION OF SECURITY AND WELL BEING UNDER A CHILD’S FEET THAN THE KNOWLEDGE HIS PARENTS ARE IN AN ACTIVE, COMMITTED (it does not have to be, nor will it be, perfect) RELATIONSHIP.
A strong marriage, not lots of involvement, is the greatest gift parents can give children. Within that state of grace, children do not clamor for attention; they thrive, in fact, on being allowed the freedom that comes from not being the center of attention – an idol. Because it is obvious that their parents love one another, they feel more than adequately loved. Because their parents are on the same page (the natural result of creating a marriage-centered family), they obey, and make no mistake, the best research has found what common sense will affirm: the more obedient the child, the happier the child.
Children leave someday, which is why it is so important to take care, in the meantime, of that which remains – or is supposed to, at least.